To get straight down to business, here in the very first verse of Isaiah, we have: The stated nature of the book – it is a vision. The named author of the book- It is Isaiah. The inclusive subjects of the book –they are Judah and Jerusalem. Finally, we have the actual dates of the book – the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.
Isaiah had a “vision”. Singular, not plural. The entire 66 chapters are the embodiment of that vision. The word “vision”, here, is the same word that Proverbs 29:18 tells us, that without having one, we lose restraint and perish. Wilson’s “Old Testament Word Studies” explains how the word could be translated as “night vision”, “dream”, “prophetic vision”, “oracle” or “revelation”. We cannot but get the picture (pardon the pun). The Hebrew word comes from the root, “face”, “appearance”, or “visage”. Isaiah had a total vision that showed him the true face and appearance of things. Oh, to see all things as God sees them!
Amoz was his father. We know absolutely nothing else about this human being apart from his name. How strange! Unless of course, Amoz was a man of fame and high profile in Judah at the time his son’s vision was put down on the scroll. The name “Amoz” is subtly different from the name “Amos”. What I mean by that, is that Isaiah’s dad was absolutely not the prophet Amos that has a biblical book under his name. It is the glory of Amoz simply that he fathered a son of the calibre of Isaiah. Like many fathers both before and after him, he lived in the reflected glory of his offspring. The next best thing to being a great man is to be the father of one. Actually, as an aside in the small print section, I have to tell you that rabbinical writings tell us that Amoz was the brother of Amaziah, who was king Uzziah’s father, after whose death Uzziah came to the throne. If that is true, Isaiah was a true and genuine member of the Jewish aristocracy of his day. Hail “His Excellency Isaiah”.
All of Isaiah’s vision (that is the entire 66 chapter volume) is concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Judah was the nation state. Jerusalem was its capital. And although other nations are mentioned throughout the prophecy of Isaiah, and other times and events are also referred to apart from those things that directly refer to Judah, the gist of all of Isaiah’s declarations are indeed concerning Judah, and Jerusalem. A little bit of historical explanation is required here to locate the times and places of what is being said in this the opening line of the great book.
We have to declare for openers, that these first five chapters are about Judah and its capital and nobody or nothing else. The book of Isaiah starts very parochially. You may then, legitimately and intelligently ask, “What on earth has Judah and Jerusalem in the eighth century BC to do with me in the twenty first century AD?” Good question! You may be surprised at my response.
My answer is contained in an explanation of the family and national context of the first advent of Jesus Christ. The Bible does not hide issues of evil and corruption within the Jewish state, or race. Salvation is of the Jews, and this does not mean that Jewish people are in any way superior, apart from the way God has blessed them. This remnant of Israel that was referred to as Judah in Isaiah’s day, had (to mix the metaphors) some very dirty washing in the cupboard, and God wants us all to know that He still deals with humans that are good, bad, and/or ugly. Apart from the person of Jesus Christ, God did not chose to bless anybody who deserved such a choice. The biblical history of the Jews lets you know that they were not chosen for their wonderful character. Ask any Christian and they will tell you that they themselves are saved by nothing but sheer mercy. It’s the same principle with both the Christian individual and the Jewish ethnic group, even if the terms and parameters of God’s mercy and grace differ slightly.
It also has to be added that God never tells Judah or Jerusalem of the bad things that will happen to them because of their sin and corruption, without topping and tailing His remarks about how incredibly He is going to bless them after Christ returns to earth, and this always includes the context of how the entire planet will be thoroughly blessed and enriched through Jerusalem, Israel, and the Jewish people – through Christ. As much as it drives some people to distraction, whenever one reads of Salvation that is personal, national, global or cosmic, one must persistently remember the statement of Christ when He said, “Salvation is of the Jews. ” Sorry if it annoys you. But Jesus Christ said that first, I am merely quoting Him. God said to the very first “Jew” (I am talking of Abraham if you get my drift), “I will bless those that bless you, and curse those that curse you. ” So it might pay us well to respect Jews and their heritage. (By the way, this writer is not Jewish, nor do I have any Jewish blood in my family line. Paul’s letter to the Romans, however, states that a true Jew is one inwardly and has a “circumcised heart.” I raise my hand to tha one and shout vociferously, “That’s me Sir!”).
Trust me, reader, that directly or indirectly, if we read biblical prophecy correctly, it is relevant to you whoever you are and wherever you are. It is inescapable from the biblical point of view to note that one’s response to the presence of Jews is somehow noted in scripture as important.
Back to the text of Isaiah’s opening line. We have next, the names of four kings. These four kings all reigned in Jerusalem. They were each descendants of King David. Uzziah was sixteen when he became king of Judah and reigned for fifty-two years. He was the tenth generation from David (Although he was the eleventh monarch after David, because of an evil murderous witch of a woman who stole the throne for 6 years in the passing on of the Davidic throne. But that’s another story!). Albright dates Uzziah’s reign from 783 to 742 BC. Edwin Thiele, however (who is generally considered the ultimate authority on the dates of the Hebrew Kings – though I have a few queries about them) suggests that Uzziah became co-regent with his father Amaziah in 792/791 BC. And died 740 BC. He was succeeded by his son Jotham who reigned partly “hand in hand” with his father Uzziah for a while, and then for five years as King alone, before he himself invited his son Ahaz to act as co-regent with him. Jotham spent 20 years in Kingly Government before he departed from this mortal coil. Hezekiah acceded after Ahaz. It’s a complex thing when the co-regencies interfere with the dating, but it is easier to just list the dates that each of the kings died: Amaziah 767 BC. Uzziah 740 BC. Jotham 732 BC. Ahaz 716BC. Hezekiah 687 BC. Hezekiah was followed by possibly the nastiest king that ever sat on David’s throne, a man by the name of Manasseh. Not only was he nastier than even Ahaz, but he reigned longer than any other in the Davidic dynasty. Jewish tradition holds that this nasty warlock, Manasseh sawed Isaiah in half. It’s a hideous enough thought as it stands, but to know that Isaiah was probably in his eighties or nineties when he died makes it a horror of horrors.
So we place Isaiah in the traumatic days of the 8th century before Christ. The twelve tribes of Israel had divided into two separate nation states shortly after the death of Solomon (930 BC). The ten most northerly tribes broke away from Judah and Benjamin, and called themselves, “Israel”. The southerly tribes of Benjamin and Judah referred to themselves as the nation of “Judah”. The tribe of Simeon had been absorbed into the tribe of Judah and was no longer in existence.
It says plainly, in the very opening verse of Isaiah’s 66 chapters that Isaiah’s voice was raised “in the days of Uzziah”. This means that despite the heavenly experience of Isaiah’s call, a call that was revealed to him, “in the year that King Uzziah died” (see Isaiah 6:1), he was undoubtedly ministering before Uzziah died in 740 BC. I do not say this because the call is recorded in Isaiah 6, as opposed to the opening chapter (as per Jeremiah and Ezekiel), but simply because those opening 5 chapters liken the spiritual state of Judah to the physical state of the king, ie: sick from head to foot, and thoroughly unclean. Such an allegory was only appropriate in Uzziah’s lifetime whilst riddled with Leprosy.
Because of his leprosy, Uzziah lived alone in an out building that was away from the public eye. Leprosy, in its latter stages particularly, demands its victims withdrawing totally from any social contact. I seriously cannot conceive of Isaiah parabolically talking about the nation being sick and deformed and irreversibly terminal like their king, once Uzziah was dead .
To be conservative in our hypothesis, if we imagine that Isaiah commenced ministry, say (just to make the point), one year before Uzziah’s death, and died at the very minimum of one year before Hezekiah’s demise, we have a bottom line ball park guesstimate that Isaiah was prophesying to the state of Judah over a period of circa half a century to 55 years. That’s minimum thinking. I have read some scholar’s writings that reckon he ministered for 64 years. I have no idea how they assert such a period so definitely. Reader, you pay your money and make your choice as to which is the nearest to the truth. At the very least, half a century of ministry gives time for any minister of God to ripen and blossom like a well tended olive tree in an orchard. What we have in Isaiah is the development and fruition of one of the great spiritual giants of the faith. His impact and influence on the state of Judah was commanding. Indeed, the entire subsequent history of the Hebrew people bears the embossed finger print of Isaiah’s prophetic words all over it.
It was conceivably because of Isaiah’s character and impact, that the voice of prophecy was eulogized and sought after post Isaiah, even though prophecy seems to have been generally despised and rejected when it was spoken by the likes of an Amos or a Hosea. But, then again, neither of them were from the aristocracy. Isaiah raised the bar for the credibility of prophecy in his generation and the role of the prophet in the nation as a whole. His benchmark ministry became a very practical power not only in the political and religious life of Judah, but in the whole social infrastructure of Judah. Common sense would give us to understand that so great a life’s work could not have been fulfilled by an isolated mission, or a single sermon like that of Amos who was a shepherd and a sycamore fig farmer, or by a man like Hosea, whose most striking prophetic statement was in his marriage to a prostitute, who seems to have carried on her one woman business whilst carrying the name of “Mrs. Hosea”. Ouch! How painful must that have been? Is it any wonder that both Amos and Hosea seem, from scripture, to have had neither friend nor disciple to assist them.
Isaiah won his commanding position as prophet and King’s counselor, not by a single stroke, but by long-sustained and patient effort; not by a few seconds of a 100 meter prophetic dash, but by many years in a Spirit led marathon that built line upon line and precept upon precept of God’s word into the royal and national psyche.
It seems to my reading of the Old Testament, that the prophet Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, who prophesied in the low country on the Philistine border near the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign, was definitely influenced by Isaiah, his great contemporary of the royal house of Judah. If it doesn’t sound like stretched Chinese logic, even though Micah’s burden, and spiritual concepts are shaded and shaped with an individualistic uniqueness and a spiritual freedom that is consistently characteristic of any true prophet, and even though his surge of rhetoric definitely does not fit into the details of Isaiah’s picture of Jehovah’s future activities with Israel, the essence of Micah’s message served to further Isaiah’s goals and prophetic targets.
Isaiah ultimately became the acknowledged head of a great move of God within Judah. It is simply not enough to say that in his old age, he was the first man in Judah speaking more kingly than the king. Through his prophetic gift he was practically guiding the helm of the State, encouraging Jerusalem to hold out against the Assyrian hordes when all besides had lost courage. I have read it in some unremembered ancient volume in a library, written by some political historian, that he considered Isaiah to be the most notable figure after David in the whole history of Israel. He was the man of God, ripened and ready for a supreme crisis in his life time, and he proved himself worthy by guiding his nation through that crisis with no other factor in his strength than the prophetic word. I have no idea whether the analysis of that unremembered author is accurate or not, but it utterly inspired me when I read it. It sounded true to my heart when I first drooled over it, and it still sounds fair to my spirit.
Isaiah sounds like the kind of man I want to be.
Isaiah lived in a time and a place and a circumstance that may be 2, 800 years away from where we are, but it was as human and as normal as contemporary social pressures with mortgage payments, rising food costs, terrorism on the streets of one’s own country, political intrigue and murder. Isaiah did not walk around with halo and wings. He lived in a time of dirt, evil, fear of invasion from other wicked countries, and was the subject of hatred because of his prophetic role. He had it pretty hard.
- A New Branch (ksean824.wordpress.com)
- Summary of Isaiah (christianfaithwalk.co.uk)
- Summary of Isaiah (zachscripturestudy.com)
- Apply task one- (first prophet) (annietuteja.wordpress.com)
- Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 “Oh Little Town of Jackson, GA” JUMC 20130811 (mysundaysermons.com)
- Apply: Isaiah and David (gracemalone.wordpress.com)
- Seeing God (9/10/13) (tworiversblog.com)
- Isaiah Contents Page (thelonghaulwithisaiah.wordpress.com)
- Book of Isaiah (graceofourlord.com)
- Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel (aliciayeosy.wordpress.com)